Northcote Road, SW11

Road, existing between 1868 and now

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Road · The Underground Map · SW11 ·

Northcote Road is a shopping street between Clapham and Battersea, which stretches over half a mile.

The area south of Battersea Rise centred on Northcote Road lies at the core of modern, upwardly mobile, child-rearing south Battersea. This is ‘Nappy Valley’, where the plentiful boutiques, restaurants and cafés cater as much for the booming infant population as for their affluent parents. Once part of an estate attached to Bolingbroke Grove House, on the site of the former Bolingbroke Hospital, it comprises about thirty-five acres bordering Wandsworth Common and is almost a suburb in itself. It was developed in phases, mostly in the 1870s–90s, under one of the freehold land societies with nigh on 600 houses, as well as shops, churches and schools.

It was the Conservative Land Society (CLS) which in 1868 acquired the undeveloped remnant of the Bolingbroke Grove House estate from Henry Wheeler, its last private owner. The CLS had been active in north Battersea since the 1850s, buying estates to increase Tory support among the working classes by selling small freehold plots for house-building that gave owners the right to vote. However, by the time the society offered the first 113 plots for sale on its Bolingbroke Park estate, as it became known, this political incentive had receded. Thenceforth the CLS and its subsidiary the United Land Company were fundamentally speculative land agents and developers, and it was in that spirit that they went about their business here.

The street layout for the first phase was the work of the society’s Glaswegian surveyor James Wylson.

He devised a simple rectilinear grid of mostly east–west streets (Abyssinia Road, Cairns Road, Shelgate Road, Mallinson Road, Bennerley Road and Salcott Road), many of them running uphill either side of a central north–south spine road (Northcote Road) built over the Falcon Brook. (This put Northcote Road in a similar line to the two side-streets, Sydney Place and Swaby Road, then being built on the Chatham Road estate to the south, which enabled them to be joined together later as a single main road.) Mallinson, Bennerley and Salcott were the longest, running all the way from Wandsworth Common to the estate’s eastern boundary at Mud or Pope’s Lane, now Webb’s Road. (These three roads, as well as Shelgate Road and the later Wakehurst Road, were to be extended beyond Webb’s Road as part of the development of the adjoining West Side estate in the 1880s.)

Construction began in 1868 and continued piecemeal throughout the 1870s and into the 1880s. Most of the houses west of Northcote Road went up c.1869–75, any gaps being filled during the late 1870s—though a few plots, such as 2–4 Shelgate Road, remained undeveloped till the 1890s. A second batch of freeholds came on sale in 1872, a third in 1875, this last group relating to houses east of Northcote Road, which by and large were built in the later 1870s and early 80s.26 By then the population here was making good use of the rail link at Clapham Junction (opened 1863), as well as two new churches—St Mark’s, Battersea Rise, and St Michael’s, Chatham Road.

With the exception of the Northcote Hotel (c.1870) and a few shops, much of the earlier fabric built in Northcote Road in the late 1860s and 70s was, as in the side-streets, residential (e.g. the runs on the west side at Nos 32–40 and 70–86). But as building picked up here and on neighbouring estates, so this road, with its central position in the declivity of the Falcon brook, evolved into the district’s main shopping street. Many houses were converted to shops in the late 1870s and 1880s, and new commercial terraces erected (e.g. Nos 23–31 and 87–99).27 Most shops were small, catering for local domestic needs, especially food and clothing.

Costermongers’ stalls also appeared and eventually blossomed into a full-blown street market. The arrival of banks in the late 1920s added to the high street character: the Midland at No. 10, and the Westminster at Nos 35 & 37, the latter with a classical stone façade.

There is much variety to be found among the first houses built in these streets between 1869 and the mid-1870s. Wylson died in January 1870, when only a few had been begun, and neither he nor his successor, John Ashdown, exercised much control in terms of house size or elevational uniformity. Some of the first houses were tall and urban-looking, usually in an old-fashioned late-Georgian style; others were smaller, in two-storey terraces. Most were built in short runs, few builders taking on more than a handful of  houses at a time, and on the whole decoration was limited. Alfred Heaver’s first Battersea houses, built in 1869–70 at 2–12 Bennerley Road, in partnership with Edward Coates, were of this type, and it is instructive to compare them with those he built seven years later at Nos 58–72, by which time he was acting also as a developer. For by then a distinctive ‘villa’ style had evolved under Ashdown’s surveyorship that was to become the hallmark of the estate and of much of Heaver’s later work from the mid 1870s. This consisted of terraced or semi-detached houses tricked out in a livery of gault brick with banding and arches in a contrasting stock (or sometimes red) brick, interleaved with generous string-course ornaments—studs, nailheads and rosettes. Liberal over-painting has since exaggerated this gingerbread-house effect. (Heaver himself lived for a time at No. 72, which he dubbed ‘The Homeland’, the biggest and most finely detailed house in the row.)

The Bolingbroke Grove frontage, overlooking the common, attracted bigger, more valuable properties, generally similar in style, though there were some individualistic exceptions, of which the double-fronted, detached houses at Nos 92 & 93 stand out. The latter was erected in 1874 as Holly Lodge, extended in 1883 and 1894, and again in 1901 when it became the vicarage to St Michael’s Church. Its more heavily decorated neighbour dates from 1882–3. Both were built for Harry Nelson Bowman Spink, a chemist based in Westminster, who lived at No. 9.

Land at the southern end of the estate had remained vacant. In September 1875 Ashdown drew up plans for a continuation of Northcote Road and two further east–west streets leading off it (Wakehurst and Belleville Roads). Just over an acre facing Webbs Road was taken by the London School Board as the site for a school, and work then began on houses in the adjoining parts of the new streets, between Northcote Road and Webbs Road. These were semi-detached villas, on more generous plots than usual, of about 20–24ft frontage.

The final phase of house-building—the laying out of the western ends of Belleville Road and Wakehurst Road — took place in 1878–80 under Heaver, who cut his teeth as a developer here, buying all four acres from the CLS and leasing plots to investors or builders. Plans were provided by the architect William Clinch Poole (a resident of one of his ‘own’ houses in Belleville Road, the present No. 62), who following John Ashdown’s death in August 1878 became surveyor to the CLS and United Land Company, and thereafter was a regular associate of Heaver’s.31 The new roads just missed Bolingbroke Grove House, which was bought by the Rev. Erskine Clarke before it could be demolished and converted to a pay hospital and dispensary (later the Bolingbroke Hospital). Unlike the roomier plots east of Northcote Road, overlooking Belleville Road School, the two-storey houses here were smaller, and built as long terraces, though designed with recesses (where the servants’ doors were located) to give the impression of semi-detached pairs.

In 1889 Henry Nicholas Corsellis, the Wandsworth solicitor and developer, bought Grove House, the last of the Five Houses in private use. Confronted with a rectangular plot sandwiched between the gridded streets of the Conservative Land Society’s estate and the Liberals’ Chatham Road development, Corsellis’s surveyor and builder William Stanbury followed suit, laying out two more east–west streets, with return frontages to Webb’s Road and Bolingbroke Grove, both of which were widened at this point. At the same time Stanbury took the opportunity to extend Northcote Road further south.

Northcote Road has an historic food market which dates back to the 1860s, and now has the indoor Northcote Road Antiques Market. As with the vast majority of street markets, Northcote Road is a mere shadow of itself, being much smaller size, and more specialised in what its stalls offer.

Citation information: A Survey of London – Between the Commons – The Under
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